Computational musicology methods allow us to perform a systematic analysis of all intervals in a corpus, but are all note successions equally important? In traditional music theory, the pulse beats tend to be given greater “weight” or relevance. In Renaissance music, it is unclear whether voice-leading guidelines should apply to any consecutive intervals (note level), or merely those that traverse from one pulse beat to the next (pulse level, defined by the whole note or semibreve). Since this question bears important implications for computational musicology, we set out to empirically evaluate it via a corpus study of Palestrina’s masses.
We investigated the voice-leading patterns in Palestrina’s corpus of 104 masses using music21. For each pair of voices, we systematically investigated whether Palestrina’s voice-leading patterns differed at the note level compared to the pulse level. Our results showed that the distribution of voice-leading patterns was significantly different at the pulse level than the note level. Violations of traditional “rules” prohibiting parallel or similar motion between perfect intervals were more common at the pulse level than the note level (p < .05), while factors associated with breaking the rules (e.g., having more voices in the texture) were similar between the two levels.</p>